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Friday, July 11, 2008

In search of a problem...

I recall a simpler time in life, when we were all blissfully ignorant about the various personal hygiene or health issues that now drive about half of the TV commercials that we see every day. Now, of course, we are told incessantly why we can’t go on without this product or that product, which will fix those problems that we didn’t know we had. Going too often or not going at all – we have a solution for that. We’re pretty much covered from our heads (dandruff shampoos) to our toes (athlete’s foot and toenail medicines for those).

This new phenomena in our society is the embodiment of solutions in search of problems, or in search of people who believe that they may have a problem. Every day the TV blares out “ask your doctor today if this drug is right for you.” I wonder how many times the doctors have to explain that the drug is not right for someone, because they don’t have the problems that the drug was designed to treat?

From a recent real estate news feed comes the story that there's growing evidence duct cleaning may be a solution in search of a problem rather than cure for what ails the air in your home. Consumer Checkbook (a subscribers only) research released this year says the dust you see in your ventilation ducts pretty much stays where it is. It likely won't become airborne unless disturbed -- say by duct cleaning. Under most circumstances duct dust is inert and harmless.

The latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency information on the subject also says succinctly, "Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g. dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space."

The EPA does recommend servicing for fuel burning furnaces, stoves or fireplaces before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. And you should regularly have fireplace and wood burning appliance fire boxes and flues cleared of potentially flammable sooty deposits and creosote, the by-products of incomplete combustion.

But, the EPA only recommends duct cleaning if:

Ducts are infested with vermin (including rodents or insects), in which case you may also need a licensed pest control operator.

Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles that are actually released into the home.

There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system. A positive determination of mold's existence can be made only by a certified microbiology expert and that may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation.

The EPA recommends that you consider hiring National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) members who are locally regulated, licensed or certified. Talk to at least three different service providers, get written estimates and only then decide if you want your ducts cleaned. When the service providers arrive have them show you the contamination that would justify having your ducts cleaned. Just the fact that there is a National Air Duct Cleaners Association is proof of how far, as a society, we’ve progressed into the ridiculous on issues like these.

Maybe I can come up with some new service to offer homeowners to solve a problem that they weren’t aware that they had. Then I could start my own “National Association of Whatever” and make myself its President. Maybe I could offer to remove and air out and vacuum the feathers from natural down pillows for homeowners; so that they avoid exposure to any potential duck or goose-feather related allergies. Then I could be President of the National Association of Down Aerators or NADA. Stay tuned for TV commercials about pillow-borne down allergies and diseases that you could avoid. Don't let your down pillow embarrass you in public ever again. Shown on the right is a test vacuum of a pile of feathers. Don't try this at home, as it takes years of practice to vacuum a pile of feathers without sucking the feathers into the vacuum. You should only use a NADA pro for this delicate task.

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